Organizations face significant risks in terms of legal fees, negative brand impact, and lost revenue if accessibility is not implemented within their sites or applications. The business case for implementing accessibility can be seen in light of reducing the risk associated with each of these risk factors. Each risk is a cost to your organization, with the total cost equal to the total potential damage multiplied by the likely rate of an occurrence. Given the scope of the operations of most major organizations today, and the multi-year span of such a risk analysis, an average organization faces the potential for significant damages if accessibility is not addressed in the near term.
Manage Legal Risk
Complaints against organizations as a service provider or product vendors relate to discrimination in the provision of services. Most major industrialized markets contain anti-discrimination legislation that is applicable to publicly available sites and services. Anti-discrimination legislation allows for both legal and punitive damages – the total cost for any given case being potentially large.
For example, the National Federation of the Blind (‘NFB’) recently brought a lawsuit against the Target Corporation that challenges whether the limitations that the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) of 1990 imposes on businesses must also apply to e-commerce websites. The NFB sued Target, claiming that blind people are unable to access much of the information on Target’s website, or purchase anything from its website independently. The case was recently settled for (i) six million dollars in direct damages and (ii) an agreement that Target will make their site compliant with Section 508, WCAG P1 and P2 requirements. A significant number of other vendors have seen activity under the ADA and profiles of these cases are provided under the Accessibility Overview available on this site.
Complaints against an organization as an employer relate to discrimination on the basis of disability and can create a great amount of risk to an organization. All major markets that the average private sector organization operates in contain anti-discrimination legislation that is applicable to their operations. Public sector organizations face significant covenants on their operations above any beyond those faced by private sector organizations. Anti-discrimination legislation allows for both legal and punitive damages – the total cost for any given case being potential large. In fact, qualitative studies have put the cost to resolve a single Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint in the U.S. at around $200,000 (USD) per complaint. As such, while the chance for such a case is relatively small, the penalty makes it a significant risk.
In an organization’s role as a service provider, there is the potential risk for complaint against public web properties. The number of complaints against the public web site could be very high – given the size of the customer base. In contrast to employment complaints, however, the case law in the United States is less clear on the applicability of anti-discrimination laws to publicly available web sites. Outside the United States, however, the laws are generally more aggressive relating to public web sites and services – resulting in a large amount of risk due to non-compliance.
Protect and Grow Public Sector Revenues
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, requires that Federal agencies’ Electronic and Information Technology (‘EIT’) be accessible by people with disabilities. Section 508 requires that an agency procure the most Section 508 compliant product currently available on the market.
Three years ago, Kofax, the world’s largest information capture vendor, and Quality Associates Inc. (‘QAI’), a Kofax Certified Solutions Provider, announced that the Social Security Administration (‘SSA’) awarded a five-year blanket purchase agreement to Kofax in the amount of $20.9 million.
According to Rick Murphy, President and CEO at Kofax, a primary factor in Kofax winning this business was the fact that the company’s flexible Ascent platform was customized to make it the most Section 508-compliant solution currently available, as tested by SSA, in the information capture market. This award was the first SSA EIT procurement to incorporate SSA’s newly implemented Section 508 scoring system, designed specifically to identify the most Section 508 compliant product in the group of tested products that met SSA’s business requirements.
Scott Swidersky, director of the information systems division for QAI, stated, “This is true testament that these decisions are being influenced by teams of Section 508 people in these agencies. It’s not the lowest bid anymore. We have a new animal out there called Section 508.”
QAI beat out four or five other solution providers that were bidding on the project, Swidersky said. In preparing its bid, QAI worked with SSB BART Group to test the compliance of the Ascent platform. The testing procedure conformed to SSB BART Group’s accessibility audit process, and included manual code review, automated testing, and user-based testing by blind and low-vision users with the leading assistive technologies.
“For every contract that’s won like QAI, it says to every contractor on the bid that accessibility is a big deal,” said Mary Smith, SSB BART Group’s VP for the Public Sector. “What QAI did was look at [the RFP] and say, ‘what does this actually mean? Why don’t we find a company that knows this stuff and talk to them and find out?’ That’s what QAI did, and that’s why they won.”
Similarly, Fujitsu Corporation contracted with SSB BART Group to bring a high level of Section 508 compliance to their public sector offerings. This partnership helped Fujitsu obtain a $41 million public sector contract that had previously been awarded to Kodak.
Access the Global Public Sector Marketplace
Extensive accessibility legislation is present in most industrialized nations and markets including the European Union (eInclusion Act), Canada (Common Look & Feel), Australia (Disability Discrimination Act), and Japan (Japanese Industrial Standard). The relevant portions of accessibility legislation require that best efforts be made in order to ensure that physical and electronic business areas can be used by individuals with disabilities. In general, accessibility legislation is more stringent outside of the United States in the sense that public sector contracts undergo a greater deal of scrutiny (e.g. Germany has undertaken the obligation to persuade commercial providers to appropriately design their products on the internet).
Accessible sites are generally more usable to everyone – including people with disabilities, older people, people with low literacy, people who are not fluent in the language of the site, people with low bandwidth connections to the internet, people with older technologies, and new and infrequent web users – thus increasing the market segments and number of people who can successfully use the site. Increased usability, therefore, means web site users achieve their goals effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. When these users have a positive experience with a web site, they are more likely to use the site more thoroughly, return to the site more often, and to tell others about the site (‘viral marketing’).
Worldwide, 750 million people have a disability and three out of every 10 families are touched by a disability. In the United States alone, the estimated 62 million disabled persons – 10.2 million who are blind – have a purchasing power of 175 billion dollars. Of the 62 million Americans with a disability, four in ten are online. According to the article, “How the Internet Is Improving the Lives of Americans with Disabilities” , these users spend more time logged on and surfing the internet than non-disabled users. On average, they spend 20 hours per week online. This population is a significant and growing market, says the National Organization on Disability – and they are turning to the internet to shop.
Recent studies indicate that 95% of the blind community performs their shopping online. In fact, when blind consumers hear about an accessible site, “They will pass it on to a few hundred people on one list server, and somebody else will pass it on to another,” says Jay Leventhal, editor of AccessWorld, an online magazine published by the American Foundation for the Blind. “That could turn into thousands of people using a website.” Furthermore, given their significant transportation problems, blind consumers are loyal to accessible sites.
Another study compared the results for a Legal and General Online Application of a United Kingdom company that added accessibility features. These findings indicated the following:
- Search engine traffic: 50% increase
- Site Maintenance: £200k savings per year
- Completed applications: 90% increase
- Conversion rate: 4% to 9%
These figures demonstrate that an accessible site can be an opening to attaining a broader market share in the disabled sector. Organizations should also factor in those people affected by using older computers, low-bandwidth connections, or public access terminals, as well as portable technologies such as PDAs and mobile devices that can benefit from web pages with image alternatives, structural markup, proper linearization, and so on. Improving the accessibility and usability of sites for all users will enhance the user experience and improve customer acquisition, satisfaction, and loyalty.
The potential negative impact of inaccessibility to an organization or brand is large and unbounded. Brand risk is tied to the potential for a negative public relations impact due to litigation or complaints being brought against the organization. While a detailed analysis of brand risk is outside the scope of this document, the synopses below indicate that inaccessible sites conflict with an organization’s branding and public messaging.